A couple of days ago I watched DreamWorks’ 2008 thriller, Eagle Eye. The film is fairly entertaining provided that you don’t take it too seriously and it has a decent score by Brian Tyler. However, the climax of the film raises an issue I have with the portrayal of musical performances in many films. In this scene Sam Holloman’s school band plays the Star Spangled Banner. A trigger that will set off the explosive necklace worn by Sam’s mother Rachel is set to activate when Sam plays a high F on his trumpet corresponding to the word ‘free’ in the last stanza of the U.S. national anthem.
There are several problems with this scene. First, although the miming is pretty good from the children with the instruments, there are instruments not present on screen such as cymbals and lower brass which are clearly audible! The music is also ‘too good’ – how hard would it have been to create a new recording of the piece which contains some deliberate imperfections and matches the instruments which are present on screen?
My other problem with this scene is perhaps more subtle and less obvious to the general movie-goer. The notation which is displayed on screen does not match the key of the music we hear! The piece sounds in B-major but the notation is in the key of G-major, except for the last note which for some reason has been changed to an F when it should actually be a D to fit with the rest of the score (the actual note we hear is an F#).
Of course, there are hundreds of other examples of musical performances in movies which don’t quite cut it. Even very good examples – such as the violin and cello duets of Captain Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) and Dr. Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany) in 20th Century Fox’s Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World or the impressive performance by Jamie Foxx in Universal Pictures’ Ray – fall short in some respect.
Perhaps the most effective musical performances are those played on instruments which we are not familiar with because we don’t know how they should sound or be played. A good example would be the futuristic instruments played by the cantina band in Star Wars Episode VI: A New Hope. But that discussion is for another day…
Are there any films which flawlessly portray ‘live’ performance by actors? And more importantly does it matter? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.